The Australian Christian Lobby has developed a new web-based tool to help Australian Christians make a choice in the Federal Election on the 24th November. The site allows you to consider what the parties propose in the 25 policy areas, how all politicians currently in the parliament voted on all conscience issues (e.g. cloning human embryo bill and the RU486 legislation) during the last session of the Parliament, and how you can find opportunities to take part in forums with your local member or gain access to key resources on their views. This site goes well beyond discussing the traditional moral issues that rightly concern Christians (e.g. abortion, the importance of families, human cloning etc) to issues for which Christians should have opinions such as climate change, civil liberties, health, Indigenous Australians, refugees, overseas aid etc. This is an excellent resource that is worth a look. There are a number of ways to read through the site but I found it most helpful to read all responses from the major parties and then to compare responses to issues that I believe are of highest priority. You’ll find some of the usual political evasiveness in relation to specific questions and a bit of double speak, but the responses on the site are a starting point for personal decision-making.
When we do vote it's my view that we need to consider the full sweep of policy agendas that one would expect from a federal government. Of course there will be some issues that will be of greater interest to us, and some Christians are prepared (legitimately) to vote based on single issues that they see as of fundamental importance.
Many Christians find it difficult to make the choice between major and minor parties. Do we vote for a local member or a party? Should we vote for a party simply because it is made up of people who are all Christians? Interestingly, Kevin Rudd (Leader of the Opposition) made some comments about this at the 2005 New College Lectures (you can read or listen to his talk on Church and State). Do we cast our vote differently in the House of Representatives and the Senate? Should our major concern be the key policy agendas of the parties or where our local member stands on specific issues? Are there key moral issues, or issues of justice, that might sway one's vote in one direction or the other?
I'm not going to offer any answers to these questions but as voters we need to think about them. Maybe you've got some thoughts on them. What I will say though is that we have a responsibility to vote and to consider the policies of the people we vote for, not to vote simply for someone we know and like, or simply to vote as our parents, friends or other Christians vote.
When Oliver O'Donovan spoke to the residents of New College this year just prior to the New College Lectures he reminded them that a government is “representative” of the people:
"I don’t mean that government is elected, though sometimes it is. Government is representative in all it does in that it speaks and acts for us, as a political community. What the Australian government agrees to and has lawfully ratified, you will have agreed to."
Readers of this Blog from other countries should also be able to relate to these questions as they face their own elections in the future. For our many American readers there are plenty of web resources that allow you to compare presidential candidates on issues of concern to Christians. For example, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life allows you to compare candidates on issues such as bioethics, the death penalty, gay marriage, religion and schools, immigration, the Iraq War and so on.
I wouldn't begin to offer advice on how Christians (or non-Christians for that matter) might make such choices between the parties based on their policies, but the ACL site should help us to assess the various party responses to key issues that should concern Christians.
If you find the responses lack the detail you need an alternative that I know some Christians use is to email their local member and ask him or her for their views on specific issues. You may get responses from party staffers but I’ve known some to receive detailed personal responses from their local member or state senators.